Students in UC Merced’s Yosemite Leadership Program  (YLP) are experiencing a summer internship like no other.
They’ve led national park visitors on tours of giant sequoia trees, gone on search and rescue missions to assist distressed hikers and helped manage invasive weeds that pose a threat to native flora.
Those are just a few examples of the kinds of work 11 undergraduate students are doing in YLP, one of several unique educational programs held at UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute (SNRI) .
“The idea is to give them a wide variety of internship opportunities in the park for both science and non-science students,” said Eric Berlow , director of the Wawona Field Station  at SNRI.
Interns are provided housing, park uniforms, books, a small stipend and a $2,500 scholarship. The internship also fulfills one requirement of UC Merced’s two year extracurricular environmental leadership certificate program.
Students gain invaluable hands-on training through their work experiences and activities. But the program’s true mission is to help students develop leadership skills and promote environmental stewardship and service.
Before the program’s end, each intern completes a project that contributes a lasting legacy to the park branch where they worked, Berlow said. Some examples: Andres Estrada will create an online multimedia presentation on Half Dome hike preparedness and safety. Matthew McClintock is making a trailhead poster about velvet grass, an invasive plant in Yosemite and how to eliminate it. Chris Fox is developing a handout about Yosemite’s native fish.
Once a week, participants in YLP and UC Merced Professor Benoit Dayrat’s  Research Experiences for Undergraduates  gather for what they call Science Fridays.
“While the students are scattered about the park, Science Fridays brings all 20 together to create a learning community,” Berlow said. “We host weekly lectures on topics at the interface of science, resource management, and art, and provide students individual feedback on their independent projects.”
On Aug. 14, students in the Yosemite Leadership and Research Experience for Undergraduate programs will give presentations on their experiences, research and projects at the Sierra Nevada Research Institute Student Symposium 2009.
The free event will be held at the East Auditorium in Yosemite Valley. It starts at 9 a.m. with the presentation ending at 4 p.m. The public is welcome to attend.